Westchester Magazine recently published the article Ergonomics: Making Your Workstation Work for You.
Author Shannon Clearwater shares a clear explanation of ergonomics, what it is, and how it applies to most of us who work at computers:
Ergonomics is a term that is thrown around quite a bit these days. But what exactly is it?Ergonomics is the applied science of equipment design intended to reduce worker fatigue and discomfort.
In simple terms, ergonomics means fitting your workstation to your needs, not trying to fit yourself into a one-size-fits-all workplace. If you have a poor ergonomic set-up in your work area – whether you work at home or in an office outside the home – it can potentially lead to conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, tendonitis or neck or back pain.
Since you can only improve ergonomics of your workstation once you acknowledge what can go wrong, she also covers the basics of why people working at desks find themselves injured and in pain.
- One of the biggest causes of injuries at a computer workstation is poor posture. While you’re working, your shoulders should be relaxed, and your neck and wrists should be in a neutral position. For the neck, this means your head should be aligned above your shoulders, not jutting forward. Your wrists should be fairly horizontal, with your hands resting on the keyboard, not bent up or down. Your elbows should rest at your sides at about a 90 degree angle.
- Another risk factor for injury is repetitive motion. Repetitive motions, especially if you have poor posture or are sitting in an awkward position, can be extremely detrimental to your body.
The tips for improving your workstation are simple but effective ideas.
When evaluating your workplace, it’s easiest to start with the chair. First, learn how to adjust your chair (height, seat depth, arm rests, angle of the backrest, etc.). Set the seat height so that your thighs are nearly parallel with the floor. A backward lean of the backrest of 10-15 degrees is acceptable and will take some of the pressure off of your lower back. Your feet should rest flat on the floor.
Where your keyboard should be placed depends on your height. To determine the ideal location, sit at your desk, relax your shoulders, and bend your elbows to 90 degrees. Where do your hands fall? If you are under 6 feet tall, your hands probably fall below your desk. If so, the keyboard is too high for you and you need to adjust the height of your chair to accommodate for this difference. If you raise your chair in order to type correctly and your feet are dangling, a simple solution is a foot rest. If you have raised your chair as high as you can and the keyboard is still too high, you may need to consider attaching a keyboard tray underneath your desk.
The mouse should be placed directly next to your keyboard and on the same level to reduce any excessive reaching. You should not have your keyboard on a tray and your mouse up on the desk. When moving the mouse around, use a full arm motion. Isolating the motion of the mouse to the wrist alone can put you at risk for injury.
The computer monitor is another adjustable part of the workstation. The top of your computer screen should be at or just below your eye level and about 18-30 inches away from your face (depending on your vision). If you are experiencing neck pain or headaches, be sure to check the height of your monitor. If you find that your eyes are dry or fatigued at the end of the day, your screen may be too high. This happens because when the screen is too high, you blink about 50% less than you should. Screen glare can be reduced by placing a filter over the screen or adjusting the location of the monitor in relation to windows and lights in your work area.
These easy to fix ergonomic problems can make a huge difference in your working environment. You will reduce your risk for injury and save yourself a lot of pain and heartache.
If you have problems with your workstation that are causing injuries, please contact an occupational therapist or ergonomics expert. You can contact your primary care doctor first for a referral for occupational therapy.
Remember that the best way to treat these kinds of repetitive motion workplace injuries is to prevent them! Setting up your workstation properly with the right kind of desk and chair and computer setup is crucial to preventing injuries and keeping yourself healthy and safe at work! You can view some of the ergonomic products we recommend in our ergonomic products store.